Director: Sian Heder
Starring: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin
Run Time: 111 mins
CODA is directed by Sian Heder and is an English-language remake of the 2014 French-Belgian film, La Famille Bélier. This represents Heder’s second feature length film, her debut being the Netflix Original Tallulah, a comedy-drama that reunited Juno stars Elliot Page and Allison Janney. Following critical acclaim at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, CODA was acquired by Apple and was released on its Apple TV+ streaming service.
CODA follow Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a teenager in her final year of high school who isn’t sure what the future holds for her. She is the titular CODA (child of deaf adults) and the only hearing member of her family as her brother, Leo (Daniel Durant) is also deaf. Ruby effectively has the unenviable task of acting as the family interpreter, given her fluency in American Sign Language. The family run a struggling fishing business, which Ruby is expected to help in full-time once she has completed her studies. However, Ruby has aspirations to be a singer but struggles to express her passion in her music class, due to a history of bullying having spoken differently as a child.
CODA is an effortlessly heart-warming coming-of-age drama that is elevated by some brilliant performances. Emilia Jones steals the film with a sensational central performance as Ruby, an endlessly relatable teenager who struggles to fully fit in with her peers. She is between a rock and a hard place with her family as they are over-reliant on her help, to the detriment of her own wellbeing and life. This is, without a doubt, one of the best performances of the year.
Eugenio Derbez is also fantastic as the charismatic high school choir director, Bernardo ‘Mr V’ Villalobos. Mr V sets a strict and high bar for his students and his love of music infectious. Deaf actors play Ruby’s family unlike the French original which it drew criticism for. They are all brilliant in capturing a dysfunctional yet sincere family dynamic, even if they are in pursuit of their own pleasures. Troy Kotsur makes a particularly strong impact as the father, who gets many comedic moments and Daniel Durant’s performance as the headstrong brother who wants his family to be taken seriously is admirable. Marlee Matlin plays the overbearing mother, the actress having previously won an Oscar for her acting debut in Children of a Lesser God.
Heder deftly balances the family conundrums with Ruby’s musical development, where she could have very easily fallen into the trap of prioritising its musical numbers. The film is paced perfectly and there are many sequences that are impossible to watch without anything other than a beam on your face.
The only criticism to make would be that CODA doesn’t particularly divert from the well-worn coming-of-age formula. It would be fair to say that if it wasn’t a story that dealt with an uncommonly explored theme, then it wouldn’t have packed as much of a punch. Despite sticking to relative convention in its structure, CODA is a crowd-pleasing film that intimately explores the deaf experience and its hearing protagonist’s young adult experience is endlessly relatable and touching.